Plan Near for Global Climate Monitoring
By KENJI HALL
Newsday.com, April 23, 2004, 9:08 AM EDT
TOKYO -- Nations are near agreement on the blueprint of a global climate
monitoring system that would help forecast environmental threats such as
rising sea levels or drought, but negotiating the details won't be easy,
U.S. officials said Friday.
Officials from 47 nations and more than two dozen international
organizations are meeting in Tokyo this week to decide what the climate
watch system should look like, who will run it and how open it should be.
They are expected to announce on Sunday a plan for the next decade through
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head, Mike Leavitt, cautioned
the system will likely suffer growing pains.
"Will there be problems? Yes. Will there be people who see this as being a
threat? Absolutely. Will some people leave? Yes," Leavitt told The
Associated Press in an interview. "That's the reason this will take a
decade to work through and not a year."
But Leavitt said nations believe that learning more about the oceans,
forests and atmosphere can promote +science+, boost economic growth and
help fight diseases. It could also create billions of dollars of projects
The goals range from reducing destruction and deaths from natural
disasters to improving water and energy management and assessing and
predicting climate change, according to a draft for the Global Earth
Observation System of Systems obtained by AP.
The United States, whose environmental policy has often riled other
countries, has led the debate, which was initiated by the Group of Eight
richest nations last year.
Details of the system aren't expected to emerge until early next year,
after a follow-up meeting in Brussels, Belgium. It's also not clear how
much it will cost.
Nations already have technology -- such as satellites, ocean buoys, fixed
weather stations and balloons -- to monitor the oceans, forests and
atmosphere and collect data about the world's weather patterns and other
threats such as El Nino.
But nations don't always share that information and there's no
adds up data from all those sources to show how the globe's climate is
This week's discussions have focused on how an overseer should
the effort and how scientists and governments can share and standardize
information, said Conrad Lautenbacher, a retired naval vice admiral who
heads the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"It requires technical agreements as well as political agreements. It's a
complicated process," Lautenbacher told AP.
Future discussions will address how the United States, Japan,
China and the European Commission can divvy up the data-collecting work
among their Earth-orbiting satellites, Lautenbacher said.
Lautenbacher said learning more about the oceans will be key.
"The oceans represent an area that have been both underexplored and
underobserved," he said. "They are extremely important to working on
climate variability and understanding climate change."
Although dozens of countries signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on
gas reduction, the United States has rejected it, saying the pact depends
on unreliable or incomplete scientific data and could hurt the economy.
Lautenbacher said this week's initiative would allow policy-makers to more
accurately gauge pollutants that contribute to global warming.
International groups say getting scientists and policy-makers to talk
"This is important to combining all of the actors involved," said
Beutler, from the International Association of Geodesy, a nonprofit group
that specializes in the +science+ of measuring the Earth.
"We can't afford not to be here," said Beutler, who is also a
the University of Berne in Switzerland.